Fran Lebowitz / Photo via

Meeting Your Idols

A fun dinner table conversation starter is to share with your friends your favorite in a particular category (my husband’s family actually has a name for this game, calling it, appropriately enough, “Categories”). It goes something like this: “What’s your favorite [fill in the blank]?” Nonchocolate dessert. 1980s television sitcom. Country music singer. You get the idea.


Incidentally, there is only one correct answer for the country music singer category: Dolly Parton. But I digress.


In the case of people, “Categories” can include not only the aforementioned country music singer (ahem), but also a politician, actor, or even writer. I’ve been fortunate to have met a couple of my idols in my life. My first brush with meeting relative greatness was in college. As a bit of backstory, I grew up as a conservative during the 1980s, which is not entirely surprising since I’m a white cisgender male from South Carolina. I became politically active as a youth and began volunteering for the nascent candidacy of Jack Kemp during his 1988 presidential campaign. His cheery optimism and conservative bona fides dovetailed perfectly with my own innocent notions of politics, so I enthusiastically offered to help in any way possible when the campaign turned its sights toward South Carolina heading into our “first in the South” primary.


I’ve written elsewhere about that experience, but in summary, I was not disappointed when I finally met Mr. Kemp. As his driver during his campaign visits to the state, I got a chance to see firsthand his charm, his intelligence, and his sense of humor. He always acted with respect and compassion for others, and while my politics have certainly moved away from Republican conservativism, my nostalgia for that campaign and era remains steadfastly positive.


This past summer, I had the opportunity to see another one of my idols, this time in the category of “writer/essayist.” For those of you unfamiliar with Fran Lebowitz, she is the quintessential New York City essayist and the subject of a recent Martin Scorsese docuseries from Netflix, “Pretend It’s a City.” Her fame began with writing movie reviews for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine in the 1970s, focusing only on the worst films, which was a perfect pairing with her sardonic humor. Eventually, her collected essays were published as an anthology titled, “Metropolitan Life.” She then became a regular fixture on late night talk shows, such as David Letterman’s “Late Show,” and by the new millennium, this middle-aged curmudgeon was discovered by a new generation.


These days her schtick is to do various appearances at college campuses or civic theaters seated on a stage being interviewed, allowing her to opine about the topics du jour and reflect on the relative superiority of life in 1970s Manhattan. Needless to say, it’s a great idea for a career — holding court by lobbing barbs and dispensing wisdom to ticket-holding fans — and I was delighted to find out that she was planning on coming to Paris for one of her “shows.” I quickly went online to buy a ticket for her appearance, only to discover that it was already sold out. Some quick research revealed that she was also going to be in Amsterdam, so I bought a ticket and booked a weekend visit to one of my favorite European getaways.


Her show in Amsterdam had some interesting moments; besides revealing that she had never been to this unique city of romance and canals, she also deftly handled one especially strange question from the audience Q&A about euthanasia. “First of all, I’m not ready to go. Not yet.” But her best quip of the evening was when the moderator asked her about American politics, and New York City politics in particular. Frannie spoke about recently departed NYC mayor De Blasio, of whom she said was surprisingly, unlike Trump, a truly unifying figure. “Everybody hated him. Democrats. Republicans. You name it.”


After the show, before an audience of over 2,000 fans, she made herself available to sign copies of her books. I had brought my dog-eared copy of “The Fran Lebowitz Reader” with me from home, and I stood in line with over a hundred other die-hard fans slowly making my way forward. To be honest, I was a bit nervous, recalling another one of my idols (category “comedian”), Dana Gould, whom I haven’t met yet, who stated that one should be prepared for disappointment when meeting one’s idols, because they are human just like you and me. I started reflecting how I might act if I were in Lebowitz’s custom cowboy boots, having just performed for a huge crowd, and then sitting for over an hour as a seemingly endless stream of strangers approached to meet me.


When it finally came to my turn, one of her handlers asked if I would like to have my moment filmed. “Yes!” I happily said as I gave him my phone. Fran smiled and took my book, asking me how I was doing. “I’m happy to tell you that I’m the midway point in the line,” I said teasingly. She stopped and looked up at me, “Really?” I smiled, and then we chatted for a too-brief moment about where I was originally from, coming from Paris, and how much I enjoyed her show.


Dana Gould’s admonition aside, I was not disappointed. When I left and was outside the Theater Carré, I stopped for a moment and turned to the dedication she had handwritten. “Your pal, Fran Lebowitz.”